You are happy for your child to be learning a new language and probably would love to hear what they can say or what they did in class. While some children will be dying to demonstrate their new skills, others may be a bit more reserved.
If you speak the language they are learning, the temptation is probably even bigger. It can be a great idea to practise target language with your child, however for the little one it could be a tad confusing. At the very young age (up to the age of 7/8 years old) children need very consistent language input patterns in order to learn. Just like you need to be consistent while teaching them what’s allowed and what’s not. In young learner teaching methodology, we tend follow the “one person, one language” approach, which is also recommended for multilingual families by speech therapists. It means that when communicating with the child, one person always uses the same language.
There is a trick though, which helps me in my classes, and you can adapt a similar one at home. When teaching children, I always have an assistant – a toy who can only speak a foreign language. So… they children need to try to speak the language they’re learning to the toy. The youngest ones usually try to say single words, answer the questions the toy asks them, etc. What’s important, though, is that they hear all the instructions in the foreign language and after the initial surprise, simply embrace the fact that the toy speaks a different language.
A similar trick can work at home, even if you don’t speak the language your child is learning. Choose one of their toys, ideally the one that your child really likes, and tell the little one that their toy really wants to learn the foreign language. Can they show them something they’ve learnt in class? Let your child be the expert and ask them to teach the new toy something they’ve learnt in their language class. You can make it a routine and ask your child to teach something new to their toy after each class. Children usually love it, they feel important and try their best to show their new skills. Don’t worry that they make mistakes, or repeat something that’s not exactly correct – there may be a few made up words here and there (which to the child sound like the foreign language), if the child continues learning in language classes, the initial mistakes will get corrected in time.
If a child is reluctant or says they don’t remember things from class, they can take the toy to the next class and then “practise together” at home. Remember that they probably will demonstrate their version of the new things and are quite likely to make things up – new words / sounds, etc. Does it matter? Not really, on the contrary, it’s just likely to spark up more enthusiasm for learning.
If you speak the language your child is learning, you can try introducing a new toy who speaks only the foreign language and so your child can try speaking the language to it. You can gently correct the mistakes they make – try repeating back what they’ve said, but with the mistake corrected. But most of all – praise any effort they make. If you know what they were learning in class, the toy may prompt the child, or help with “revision” at home.
Like with all new things, it may be best to leave it up to the child if they want to play in a foreign language at home or not. Most children who enjoy their language classes are happy to show their new skills at home. But there are also those who may need a bit more time to feel comfortable both in class and outside, and as adults all we can do then is respect it and be patient until they are ready.